Laura Stern and John Turner Win RAAM Open West, October 1989

By John Hawk Marino

Twenty Nine Palms, CA- In seven years of RAAM Across America (RAAM) qualifying events, history was made in this women's division of the RAAM Open West, a 508 mile RAAM qualifier. Laura Stern, a 28 year old geophysicist from Menlo Park, CA proved that women have the capability to challenge top men riders in ultra-distance cycling. Stern swept the women's division and finished third overall in the RAAM Open West, a non-stop race held on October 21st from Valencia, CA through Death Valley and ending in Twenty Nine Palms. She took an early lead and held it for 240 miles, which included leading the entire men's field, and setting a course record to the top of Townes Pass, 213 miles into the race, elevation 4,956 feet with an 8% unrelenting grade. She average 21 mph the first 200 miles.

Just short of Furnace Creek, Stern gave up her lead to eventual men's winner John Turner, age 36, form Norwalk, CA and second place Felix Battig, 39, from Breitenbach, Switzerland, a former member of the Swiss National Cycling team. Turner won the race in 30 hours, 59 minutes and Battig finished 2nd in 32 hours, 41 minutes. Stern was only 7 minutes behind Battig, with a time of 32 hours, 48 minutes, which included being delayed 13 minutes by a train in Kelso, CA.

The most impressive part of Stern's performance was her overall average, which is really the barometer of an ultra-marathon cyclist. While Turner's and Battig's averages were up with the best of past men qualifiers, Stern broke all previous women's RAAM qualification event average speed records (since 1983, race inception) by more than two miles per hour. A small number, like two mph, might not seem like a lot to a layman, but experts will agree that gaining tenths of a mile in average speed becomes significant over hundreds of miles. The difference between an average speed of 15.5 and 14.5 miles per hour over 508 miles translates to over 2 hours advantage over 500 miles. A two mile per hour variance (15.5 vx. 13.5) represents almost a 5 hour advantage. Statistically, this easily put her among the elite women who have gone on to win RAAM and/or set U.S. transcontinental records, namely Susan Notorangelo, Elaine Mariolle, Casey Patterson, Cindi Staiger, Shelby Hayden-Clifton, and Pat Hines.

Race Director John Marino comments "Stern is a climbing machine. At sun-up on Sunday morning, I focused on her through my binoculars as she climbed 14.6 miles out of Death Valley over Jubilee and Salsberry passes. She really had no use for bicycle seat because she didn't sit down. She rode as though she had springs in her pedals practically all the way up from below sea level to the summit of Salsberry at 3,315 feet. All this was after riding through the night while battling 20mph headwinds through the basin of Death Valley, 307 miles from the start." Race winner John Turner commented, "I tried my best to catch her up Townes Pass, but I couldn't." Felix Battig really had no comment because he didn't speak English, but bet your bottom dollar that he took home an "eye opening" story to his countrymen in Switzerland. Battig hopes to come up with the sponsorship so he can come back to American in August to compete in RAAM '90.

John Turner rode a steady race by proving that he has the "staying power" to come on strong through the later and tougher miles of the race. He dealt with strong headwinds much like the April winner, John Hughes, but missed bettering Hughes' course record by a mere 5 minutes. Turner consumed a 100% liquid diet of Ultra Energy, supplemented with equal amounts of water. Stern's diet was about 80% Ultra Energy and 20% solid foods. Battig ate just about everything in sight. He left his special Swiss liquid formulas in another vehicle that got separated from him throughout the race because his vehicle did not meet the safety requirements for night travel.

Profiles of RAAM Open West RAAM '90 Qualifiers

Laura Stern: Menlo Park, CA, 28, time 32:48, 15.49 average and course record, 1st woman and 3rd overall, geophysicist, enjoys art, graduate of Stanford University, LA Wheelmen Triple in 17:20, 3rd year serious cycling, ROW was absolutely hardest physical endeavour of life, hates headwinds and flats, Cat.3 USCF, sponsored by Wheelsmith Bike Shop in Palo Alto, CA, rode a Bridgestone Radac.

John Turner: Norwalk, CA, age 36, men's winner, time 30:59, 16.4 average, warehouseman, rand the '84 Long Beach Marathon, rode the Grand Tour, Tour of Two Forests, RAAM '90 unknown, serious cycling for 3 yrs., sponsored by SCOR/Randy Ice and Downey Cyclery, rode a Centurion Carbon Fibre.

Felix Battig: Switzerland, age 39, 2nd place, time 32:41, 15.54 average, flew to the race with wife (Monique) and friend (Beat Wyrsch) and immediately flew home, two kids ages 5 and 6, insurance executive for Elvia, enjoys jogging, skiing, and swimming, 16 yrs. On the Swiss amateur team, specializes in the four man TT, raced Paris-Bern (600km), wants to race RAAM '90, looking for sponsors.

Les Drake: Carpinteria, Ca, age 33, 3rd place, time 33:10, 15.32 average, enjoys woodworking and relaxing, engineering technician, qualified in '86, raced RAAM in '88, sponsored by Gold Coast Cyclest, Dallmeyer P.T. in Santa Barbara, rode a custom Mike Selman bike and Vitus aluminum.

Ed Levinson: Oakland, CA, age 32, 4th place, time 34:00, 14.94 average, qualfied and race in RAAM '88, occupation cyclist, trained 300-350/wk, 11 triples, 6 doubles, rides rollers, lifts weights, and used rowing machine, sponsored by Kostman Sport Group, Parallel Technology, Downey Cyclery, and Bay Area Rent-A-Crew. (This support crew really does rent their services: five qualified people with the combined experience of 38 RAAM Qualifiers and 16 RAAMs will provide support at its best.). Anyone interest, contact the UMCA.

Richard Treese: Santa Barbara, CA, age 35, 5th place, time 34:20, 14.72 average, electrical technician, enjoys building stereos and designing electrical equipment, 2 time official finisher in ROW-AZ, including the 700 mile race from Tucson to the Grand Canyon and back, remarks that this Valencia ROW was his hardest, sponsored by Hazard Cyclery in Santa Barbara, rode a Trek, rode 8 weeks at 428 miles/wk, peaked at 602 miles/wk.

Official Finishers (finishing within 51 hours)

6) Richard Stark, Lawndale, CA, age 31 – 36:24 – 13.96 avg

7) Bill Albers, Flagstaff, AZ, age 22 – 37:00 – 13.73 avg

8) Dwight Sebald, Lafayette, CO, age 36 – 37:09 – 13.67 avg

9) Roger Nelson, Dansville, MI, age 41 – 46:29 – 10.93 avg, oldest finisher

10) James Barhitte, Vancouver, WA, age 41 – 50:56 – 9.97

Note: Dave Kees, who raced in RAAM '89 and has already qualified for RAAM '90, rode the course unofficially in a time of 35 hours, 20 minutes.

Did Not Finish: Campbell, Chase, Fryar, Davies, D. Holmes, Dragani, Dawson, Donner, Watrous, Tebo, Harden, Zimbleman, C. Holmes, Bishop, Garrison, and France.